Is Clijsters’ heart still in the game?

While watching Kim Clijsters during last week’s WTA Championships, I couldn’t help but think that the answer to the question above is “probably not.”

From the tourney’s first round to its last, the 27-year-old Belgian looked as though she would rather be anywhere but the Khalifa International Tennis Complex’s center court.

Granted, the three-time major champion sported the exact same look in every one of the 11 tournaments she played this year.

It’s completely understandable, of course. She’s a wife and mother now, and her family–not her profession–is her priority at this point.

That said, her seeming lack of interest in the game begs the question: Is she really going to stick around until the 2012 Olympics?

(Following Elena Dementieva’s retirement announcement in Doha, Clijsters told the Guardian, “I’d like to try and keep the tennis going until the Olympics in London, at which point Jada will be obligated to go to school. So that’s when I’ll probably be calling it quits and just focus on the family.”)

Like my answer to the question posed in this post’s headline, I can’t help but think the answer to the one above also is “probably not.”

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Is Ana Ivanovic insane?

That’s the first thing that popped into my brain when I read the following headline: “Ivanovic parts ways with coach Heinz Gunthardt.”

According to the Associated Press, the 22-year-old Serb decided to drop Steffi Graf’s former coach because she needs “a full-time coach who is with me at all tournaments and during training periods.”

Although I understand her desire for a full-time coach, I’m not sure she should be so quick to say “hasta la vista” to the man who seemingly helped her climb back into the top 30 and end a two-year title drought.

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Should auld acquaintance be forgot? (a WTA Championships wrap-up)

In his most recent tennis.com column, Steve Tignor says, “the last match of the women’s season was a microcosm of the WTA year as a whole.” I agree, although I’d take things a step further and say the last tournament of the women’s season was a microcosm of the year as a whole.

How so? Well, take Kim Clijsters. She looked disinterested and disdainful throughout last week’s WTA Championships, yet she still walked away with the title. The same could be said of her triumph at the US Open a few months ago–and of the other tournament wins she racked up throughout the year.

The Belgian’s opponent in the season-ending tourney, Caroline Wozniacki, on the other hand, looked positively delighted to be on court in Doha–well, except for when her father would swoop from the stands and cuss out her sometimes-tentative play. She looked similarly delighted in the 21 other tournaments she played in 2010–six of which she won. Hopefully that perma-smile of hers will be on display during 2011, too–especially as she fields question after question about her lack of a Grand Slam singles title.

Moving on to the world’s second-ranked player, Vera Zvonareva followed up a season in which she was beaten to a pulp in the finals of two Grand Slams (first by Serena Williams at Wimbledon and then by Clijsters at the US Open) by being beaten to a pulp (by the aforementioned Wozniacki) in the semis of the WTA Championships. Was the 26-year-old Russian overwhelmed by the situation, or does she simply lack the game (and the will) to win the “big ones”? I guess we’ll find out in 2011.

A similar question could be asked about sixth-ranked Samantha Stosur after her semi-final loss last week. She started the tournament with such promise–by handily beating both Francesca Schiavone and Wozniacki in her round-robin matches–only to lose to Clijsters in straight sets (with the second set being 6-1) when it counted. The 26-year-old Aussie clearly has the game to win such matches and tournaments, but it’s not yet so clear that she has the nerve needed to do so.

Nerve certainly wasn’t a problem for seventh-ranked Schiavone during Doha, nor was it a problem for her during this year’s French Open. That said, she was obviously more successful at the latter than she was at the former. Why? Honestly, I think she’s still caught up in the rapture of her surprise win in Paris. As such, it will be interesting to see if that afterglow wears off by the start of the 2011 season or if it continues until whenever the 30-year-old Italian decides to hang up her rackets.

As for the play of the last two players who competed (I use that word somewhat loosely, especially in the case of the 25-year-old Serbian) at the WTA Championships–eighth-ranked Jelena Jankovic and tenth-ranked Victoria Azarenka–well, it could be best described as “par for the course.” The former, for instance, continued to look unfit and uninspired, while the latter continued to look unsure of herself despite her wealth of weapons.

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Kim Clijsters: WTA Championships, er, champion

When Kim Clijsters and Caroline Wozniacki last played each other, it was for the 2009 US Open trophy and winner’s check. The match was hardly a thriller, though, with the Belgian winning it in two.

Today’s title match at the WTA Championships was even less interesting–for the first set and a half. Clijsters ran out to a 6-3, 4-1 lead and looked to have the match–and the tournament–in the bag, but let her top-ranked opponent back into the mix when she lost seven of the next eight games.

I’d be hard-pressed to describe the play during that eight-game stretch–which saw the Dane take the second set, 7-5, and earn an early break in the third–as great, though, as Clijsters’ head–as well as her forehand and backhand–seemed to be elsewhere. Sure, Wozniacki played more aggressively than she had in the first set, but you sensed that if the world’s fourth-ranked player could get her head on straight again she’d walk away with the win.

That’s just what happened in the second game of the third set. Clijsters won that game, leveled the set at 1-1 and never looked back as she broke her 20-year-old opponent again while up 3-2 and then served it out. (Final score: 6-3-, 5-7, 6-3.)

With the win, the 27-year-old became just the fifth player in WTA history to take home the trophy at the season-ending tournament three or more times–joining Martina Navratilova (8), Steffi Graf (5), Chris Evert (4) and Monica Seles (3).

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‘It’s so hard to say goodbye’

In case you missed it, here’s the speech–during which she announced her immediate retirement from the sport–Elena Dementieva gave yesterday following her loss to Francesca Schiavone at the 2010 WTA Championships.

You can tell this 29-year-old veteran was well loved–and will be well missed–by her tennis-playing peers.

Goodbye and good luck, Elena!

See also: ‘It was nice knowing (and watching) you, Elena

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Clijsters over Wozniacki

That’s my prediction for tomorrow’s title match at the 2010 WTA Championships in Doha.

Why? Well, it seems as though Kim Clijsters righted herself a bit in today’s semi-final against Samantha Stosur, for starters. Although she double-faulted numerous times in earlier matches, she had just two today. On the flip side, the 27-year-old Belgian served six aces against her Australian opponent.

If she can keep that up in the final–and keep her unforced errors to a minimum, too–she should be able to topple Caroline Wozniacki, whom she defeated rather routinely in last year’s US Open final (their only previous match), once more.

The 20-year-old Dane has improved a lot in the ensuing year, however, so I expect her second match against the Belgian to be a much more competitive affair than her first.

Still, I predict Clijsters will take it in three and end her up-and-down year on a very high note.

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And the 2010 WTA Championships finalists are …

Kim Clijsters and Caroline Wozniacki.

I know, I picked Vera Zvonareva to win the semi-final against the world’s newly anointed No. 1, but I also placed an asterisk at the end of that prediction that suggested I wasn’t at all sure of it.

Anyway, at times it seemed Zvonareva would, in fact, pull out the win. In the match’s 11- minute opening game, for instance, she had five chances to break, only to lose all but one of them to a Wozniacki winner.

Unfortunately, Zvonareva completely crumbled after that game, and Wozniacki raced to a 4-1 lead. The No. 2 player in the world wrestled the momentum from her Danish competitor two games later, though, by breaking serve, holding and then breaking again to go up 5-4.

Seemingly brimming with confidence, the 26-year-old Russian quickly earned herself two set points in the next game. She lost them both, though, due to strong play from her 20-year-old opponent, and then promptly lost that game and the first set, too, a few minutes later.

I didn’t keep track, but I have a feeling the second set of this semi-final didn’t take much longer than the match’s 11-minute-long first game. Regardless, it was a slaughter, with Wozniacki winning each and every game with ease. (Final score: 7-5, 6-0.)

Sadly, I wasn’t able to watch the first semi-final–between Kim Clijsters and Samantha Stosur–of the day.

It sounds as though it was quite similar to the second semi, though, with the 26-year-old Australian keeping it close in the first set–which she lost in a tie-breaker–before crumbling in the second. (Final score: 7-6 (3), 6-1.)

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